The introductory text below gives a short description of our starting points. It contextualizes the operatic work that has been both the objective and source of our reflections, and summarizes how the central terms are supposed to frame the material collected from the artistic process. The problems we have faced as well as the discussion that they spark are intertwined with our notes and do not appear in certain sections of the exposition.

About the opera

Chronos’ Bank of Memories1 is an immersive puzzle opera that was produced for individual, role-playing visitors in empty shop stores. The conceptual idea behind the project was to split up coherent and composed information into scenes and media that could be accessed by the visitors in different places and at different occasions in order to play with chance and choice. The plot departs from the relational problems occurring between a few characters inhabiting a fictional pawn shop for memories.

One of the fragmented pieces of the opera was presented live in November 2019 at Fredsgatan 7 in Halmstad, and the premiere of the whole work with all parts available was originally planned for April 2020 at Nygatan 1 in Halmstad. In that year, however, the production was delayed by the covid-19 pandemic and until the planned revival in the fall of 2022 only one act of the opera had been performed live with unprepared drop-in participants, pawning and purchasing memories between errands in Halmstad. It took until October 2022 for the complete opera to be performed, which took place at Brogatan 24 in Halmstad. In hindsight, we look back upon a process carried out under transformative pressure and this exposition is a result of our own recollection of it after the pandemic. We see now how some ideas informing the artistic work due to the extraordinary circumstances became articulated, and in some cases even more stressed, than they otherwise would have been.

This exposition tracks the process of revisiting and revising our work with Chronos’ Bank of Memories. In this opera, we set out to play more or less irreverently with rituality, but also to detach ourselves from routine behavior and adapt to rapid change, which has been a sobering exercise in resilience. But before going into these topics, we will begin by positioning our work discursively.

Picking up the pieces

So, how does Chronos Bank of Memories relate to contemporary operatic discourse? A recurring question from many artistic academics we meet has been how our kind of opera can be placed within the ruling “postdramatic2 paradigm, including so called “postopera”.3 Even though we abandon communal experience in a manner that at the first glance bear resemblance to postdramatic theatre, the answer is that we don’t think it easily can.


We regard synthetization of information through the performing human body as a quality inseparable from operatic practice – a further discussion about this can be found in Jalheds doctoral dissertation.4 And the postdramatic turn appears to be quite anti-operatic in its occupation with de-synthetization as well as its emphasis on multi-modal perception rather than multi-modal performance:


Synthesis is cancelled. It is explicitly combated. […] Enclosed within the postdramatic theatre is obviously the demand for an open and fragmenting perception in place of a unifying and closed perception. On the one hand, the abundance of simultaneous signs in this way presents itself like a doubling of reality: it seemingly mimics the chaos of real everyday experience.5

Chronos Bank of Memories is indeed fragmented, but not de-synthetized and requiring an active re-unification of disjointed parts; it is conceptualized as a complete whole shattered into pieces that are compatible, not chaotic. Instead of mirroring the assumed mess of reality, our aim has been to contrast it with fragments of a logically coherent fantasy which presumes that the recipient has detection and reasoning skills. This is what makes the work into what we call a “puzzle opera,” and not an absolute “open work”6 in the 20th century sense.

Earlier generations’ efforts to actively confuse art and life have, for example, been critically discussed by historian Christopher Lasch as a narcissistic feature of Western culture. He claims that “[t]he illusion of reality dissolves, not in a heightened sense of reality as we might expect, but in a remarkable indifference to reality.”7 With this in mind, our intention in general is to become less contemporary and more progressive, trying to emancipate the participants in our operas from the usual mirroring as far as possible. Chronos’ Bank of Memories is a product of this critical stance.


Detail from visitor's view in a performance of Chronos Bank of Memories in Halmstad, 2022. Photo by Hedvig Jalhed.


On rituality

In this opera, we have exchanged the communal ritual of opera attendance for the ritual of individual purchase in a fictional shop store. Detaching opera from the social game of the opera house is part of our ongoing practice, but usually we compose original systems for interaction rather than using template models. However, instead of basing the structure for interaction in Chronos Bank of Memories on our own rules, we modeled it on a pre-existing social ritual so that people could participate without learning any new rules.

Rituals are, according to performance theorist and theatre director Richard Schechner, codified and repeatable actions that emphasize efficacy.8 In this exposition, we don't employ the term ritual in the narrow sense of fixed ceremonial action, but in the broader meaning of micro-sociological protocol, regulating face-to-face interaction between social actors in everyday life. However, we are cautious not to expand the definition too far and do not include all kinds of habitual and regular acts as pertaining to rituality. Sociologist Randall Collins mentions the common criticism of ritual analysis that it is overgeneralized, in that rituals are supposed to be omnipresent, and he asks rhetorically: “[I]f everything is a ritual, what isn’t?”9 Bearing that in mind we acknowledge that, although being closely related concepts, there are some subtle differences between (for instance) routines and rituals.


Routines, understood as acts performed in the same way over and over again, are flowing habits and regulative arrangements that can easily be interrupted and continued. They can be carried out without much reflection and calculation – such as brushing your teeth in the morning or gathering for family dinner in the evening. Rituals, on the other hand, are compelling and attention demanding linear constructs with distinctive steps that are conditioned in relation to each other. Rituality doesn’t allow for rationalization, but must be carried through step by step. We note that rituals are based on rules governing what you must and can do in order to obtain or avoid certain psychical or social results. And they are more often more conscious than automatic.


Rituals break routines. Think of everything from holiday celebrations and transcendental rites of passage, making us go on leave and adjust to certain programmatic schedules for a moment. Of course, rituals are not the only things that break our routines. Accidents, illnesses, and love do too – not to mention a global pandemic. But our point is that routines help us go on and rituals make us halt. Like when stopping for a red light in an empty street, we restrain our energetic goal-fulfillment for the sake of rules and expectations.


Collins highlights that while anthropologists see ritual as a formal apparatus that maintains order in a societal and cultural macro-structure, microsociologists “takes the situation as the analytical starting point of explanation.”10 So what can rituals be for us as artists? What can an artistic approach to rituality be in comparison to the anthropological and sociological ones? In short, artworld systems are, according to philosopher George Dickie’s institutional theory of art, frameworks for the presentation of art works. Artworld systems, such as opera, are highly ritualized and stratified. Dickie sees an artist as a person who participates in such a system “with understanding in the making of a work of art”,11 with art here defined as the creation of artifacts – that is, conscious material or conceptual alteration of a medium. As artistic researchers we can explore and test the artworld systems’ ability to process and appreciate new artifacts, but we can also toy with and challenge their ossified rituality by confusion of context.


We suggest the term “template rituals” for ritualistic patterns used as frameworks for interaction rituals with familiar steps that can be applied in weird and twisted contexts, in order to balance the strange with the known. In Chronos’ Bank of Memories, our intention has been to let another rituality overrule the usual ritual of opera.

In the artistic practice of immersive opera with ludic features, in which unprepared visitors are integrated into operatic works by way of game-playing, we can use the outlines of established rituals as interactive schemas. In order to facilitate direct interaction between performing artists and role-playing visitors in the bank, we have explored how such actions can be retrieved to underpin an operatic event with interactive features. However, these rituals are not plain and regular. They have been distorted.


Distortion through the artform opera

Distortion has its etymological root in the twisting of forms. Factors such as sustained time-lapses distorting a naturalistic passage of events, and swelling and embellished words with distorted vowels are examples of the stylistic markers of opera. In Chronos’ Bank of Memories, there is a complete original story that has been reduced to a poetical libretto, which has in turn been microstructured through musical composition, and finally organized into theatrical action. In opera, the underlying lyrics are deliberately distorted by musical pacing and pressure and, in line with this, the gestures and postures on stage become exaggerated. Therefore, the ingoing parts can be said to have distorting effects on each other. And we regard operatic research as an artistic field of knowledge primarily concerned with the synthetic relationship between poetry, music, and theatre in what can be distinguished as operatic performance. Therefore, we don’t go into discussions of, for instance, opera music and musicological theories about the ritualistic nature of music in general (see for example Christopher Smalls concept of musicking12).

Distortion and remembrance

As we know, our memories are constantly distorted and thereby altered for self-serving reasons. We can use memories for solace, just as we tend to find something pleasingly comforting in listening to the tunes we know by heart,” as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has noticed.13 In the case of this particular artistic production, distortion also came with an unforeseen and exceptional interruption with impact on both the venue and the cast. Furthermore, taking distortion as a key element in our broader work as artists, we display and discuss how we can embrace both self-governed and imposed distortions so that they can be appreciated as artistic effects.

In the case of Chronos’ Bank of Memories, we installed distorting elements into the concept, letting the music and the characters aggrandize and twist the courses of events. But the conditions for the relocated production also disturbed an anticipated equilibrium in many ways – acoustically in the case of a corridor-like venue, for instance.

Artist Brian Eno has concluded that [w]hatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distor­tion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.14 From this, we embrace the notion of distortion in order to generate memorable peculiarity through opera. Inquiring into these processes, we acknowledge how distortion changes proportions and thus, in our view, adds artistic quality.

Dynamic distortion is a process that might generate distinct features. Its characteristics can be the result of the distortion of proportions, producing irregularities and strangeness that disturb the order and equilibrium. But distortion requires an established starting point, an original state or a raw material that can be discovered despite being changed. To distort is a transitive verb, it must have an object – a signal that can be made less clear and more confusing. No matter if distortion happens by twisting, smudging, swelling, tightening, splitting, or merging, there must be something recognizable and distinctive shining through an altered surface. With superficiality we can gain distorted perspective on what we otherwise used to know. In the Autumn of 2022, the time had come for us to refinish what was unfinished as what had been put on hold was in flux again.

References on this page:

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Fear. Polity, 2006.

Collins, Randall. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton Paperbacks, 2004.

Dickie, George. Introduction to Aesthetics: An Analytic Approach. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Eco, Umberto. The Open Work. Translated by Anna Cancogni. Harvard University Press, 1989.

Eno, Brian. A Year with Swollen AppendicesFaber and Faber, 1997.

Jalhed, Hedvig. An Operatic Game-Changer: The Opera Maker as Game Designer and the Potentials of Ludo-Immersive Opera. University of Gothenburg, 2022.

Jalhed, Hedvig, Petersson, Mattias, Hjorth, Daniel, and Wikström, QarinChronos' Bank of Memories. 2019.

Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations. W. W. Norton, 1979.

Lehmann, Hans-Thies. Postdramatic Theatre. Translated by Karen Jürs-Munby. Routledge, 2006.

Novak, Jelena. Postopera: Reinventing the Voice-Body. Routledge, 2015.

Schechner, Richard. Ritual and Performance. In Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by Tim Ingold. Routledge, 2002.

Small, Christopher. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Wesleyan University Press, 1998.